A few weeks back, we gave you the scoop on the two different lawsuits that U.S. attorneys filed against Facebook, in an attempt to end its allegedly monopolistic practices. Now, Facebook is being accused of yet another crime: knowingly overestimating the number of users that could be reached through Facebook ads. In 2018, the social media giant was sued for overinflating data presented to advertisers, and it has been battling out the lawsuit in court since then. Earlier this month, the court filing was unsealed and revealed to the public.
According to the documents, Facebook’s senior executives are well-aware that such a practice is being done by Facebook. Back in 2018, a product manager had brought it to their attention, saying that the figures being reported by Facebook’s Potential Reach audience were “deeply wrong”. In an attempt to amend this, the product manager suggested making a few changes to the system so it could display more accurate numbers. However, Facebook’s senior executives refused to implement the changes, claiming that it would be bad for business and harm the social media giant’s revenue.
Ad audience fiasco causes backlash
Naturally, netizens were enraged and were quick to react to the whole fiasco. Jason Kint, CEO of Digital Content Next, took to Twitter to reveal what he found. In a Tweet posted on February 18, 2021, Kint showed a few screenshots of the lawsuit against Facebook. The filing reports that as early as 2017, Facebook’s COO Sheryl Sandberg was well-aware of the trouble with Facebook’s Potential Reach. Sandberg had sent out an internal email, admitting that she had already known about the inconsistencies and problems of the system for a while. However, Facebook’s higher-ups made no move to correct their error and even went through pains to cover it up.
According to the lawsuit, Facebook’s Potential Reach says that it can measure and analyze individuals across the platform. However, it can only assess and measure Facebook accounts. Instead of removing any fake or duplicate accounts, the company deliberately chose to keep them a part of the Potential Reach metric. This is because they found that doing so would cause a 10% drop in Potential Reach, which could harm their business with both existing and potential advertisers. So, unwitting advertisers continue to avail of Facebook’s ad services, thinking that they are getting their full money’s worth. (Read: Facebook blocks news sites in Australia)
The social media giant responded against the lawsuit, arguing that their numbers are merely estimates and that advertisers pay based on impressions and clicks. However, it is well-known that advertisers look at how many people their ads could potentially reach when they are planning out a budget and ad spend.
This is not the first time the company has been accused of faking its audience numbers. Back in 2015, Facebook was hit with complaints from advertisers regarding misleading video metrics, but the company didn’t do much to address the problem and continued to report false data. Facebook only began to privately reach out to major advertisers in 2016, to say that they had recently found discrepancies in their video metrics, despite it having been brought to their attention a year prior.
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